Dear Dave

Monday 11 August 2008

No purchase necessary

Dear Dave,

Every day, my inbox seems to be full of emails wanting me to download software 'totally legally' for a fraction of the normal retail price. In between those emails are some others wanting me to confirm my identity and 'prevent fraud' by clicking through and logging into my online bank account. As a bonus, several lovely Nigerian ladies are convinced that I might want to extend each of them a small loan in order to release their late husbands' fortunes from the clutches of government bureaucracy. Finally, half the world appears to believe that a certain part of my anatomy is either not large enough or not functioning properly and that they have the means to help.

For a small fee...

I used to sort through all the junk but it's got totally out of hand. I've had to set my anti-spam program to nuclear. From now on, I will no longer receive invitations to sign up for a 'bona fide' degree which requires 'no tests/books/classes or exams' and nor will I be required to reflect on the likely efficacy of dieting programs which promise a 'natural approach' to weight loss 'without feeling hungry'. These missives will be vapourised the second they pass through my wi-fi card.

The computer should really make some kind of sound effect, like the little suckers are thudding against the iris in Stargate SG-1. That way, I'd know my inbox is still working. Suddenly, I'm barely getting any email at all.

Perhaps I should relax the spam filter and pretend I have friends. Maybe that 'bored, Russian girl' is still looking for someone to have fun with...

Hmmm. Or maybe not.

Hopefully it will be a while before I have to explain email confidence tricks to the children, but I do find myself having to teach them to be a touch more shrewd on occasion. 'Katerina' may not be after them but they face a few scams peculiar to youth.

For instance, sometimes their contemporaries blatantly lie to them. I'm now very wary whenever Fraser wants to invite a classmate around. All too often, he's been keen to have a visit from someone he doesn't particularly like, simply because the child in question has claimed to have the same computer game as him. In order to avoid disappointment, I make sure to check the child has supplied some information about the game that Fraser hasn't given them first.

Of course, adults lie to children, too, but kids are used to that - they know there's no such thing as the tooth fairy, that we aren't nearly there and that it will hurt. They have a sure-fire way of overcoming these scams: they ignore everything adults tell them. After all, adults talk nonsense.

My children laugh at the thought that some stranger might try to lure them away with the promise of sweets. They know better than to believe such things. I find myself compelled to point out that an adult could bypass subterfuge entirely and just pick them up and steal them. They laugh some more. I pick them up, carry them off and hold them upside down over the toilet. I think they've got the message now.

Another scam aimed at children can best be summarised by the phrase 'Gotta catch 'em all'. True, this has been around far longer than Pokémon (remember those football sticker albums?) but it's probably never been milked to such a degree as by Squirtle, Bulbasaur and friends. There's everything from cuddly toys to curtains. Fraser put six pounds into a vending machine once in a desperate effort to get an inch-high plastic replica of Pikachu. He got five Kyogres and a Plusle. It was heartbreaking.

There is another con which is worse, however:

Shiny packets.

Kids will pay good money for something in a shiny packet. They may not even care what the thing is. Actually, they almost certainly won't care what the thing is, although girls are a little more discerning - they insist on the packet being pink as well as shiny.

I suspect that by the time my children have progressed beyond this phase, I will already be explaining about the email scams. Kids have a strange understanding of the value of money. I have to keep telling them that spending one pound fifty on the phone-in quiz at the end of a TV show is essentially a waste equivalent to binning a large bar of chocolate without even licking it. Life gets even more complicated when we turn a corner in the local supermarket and we're presented with a display of sweets on Buy One Get One Free. It can be hard work persuading Fraser that purchasing as many as we can carry isn't sound financial planning. 'But, Daddy!' he says, 'The more we buy, the more money we save!'

He used to be sincere but lately he's had much more of a sly grin about him. I suspect he's trying to scam me.

Then again, maybe he's right...

No, no, I must resist gadgets in shiny packets and BOGOF offers for things I don't need one of, let alone two...

Perhaps the children won't ever completely get over the attraction of surrounding themselves with sparkly bargains. (I certainly haven't.) Maybe I can only encourage them to resist. More than simply pointing out when they're being duped, I need to teach them to search out friendship and meaning, fulfilment and purpose. I need to teach them to love themselves and the people around them, not stuff. That way, the world will be a better place and my house will accumulate less junk.

It's going to be a long, difficult road.

In the meantime, at least I've learnt to turn things to my advantage. If I want them to take an interest in an educational toy, I make sure to wrap it in silver foil, leave it in the middle of the room and tell them not to touch it.

Works every time.

Yours in a woman's world,



Anonymous said...

Ooooo shiny things.

I'm so easily fooled.

DadsDinner said...

Glad you've got your computer back, Jenk. A whole internet of shiny stuff awaits...